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If you ask K-12 students in Boston what they want, one of the first things they’ll tell you is “More arts!” Results from a student survey by EdVestors and commissioned as part of the recently released Boston Public Schools Arts Expansion Initiative, show that students across grade levels wanted more visual arts, more dance, more music, and more theater in their schools. In fact, 48 percent of students in grades 6-8 said they wanted “a lot” more arts classes. That’s because we students understand and value the arts in our education.
I have attended schools in Boston my entire life — I graduated from Charlestown High School in June. As I have grown up, I have witnessed and become a part of the lively growing community of artists, art lovers, and art educators in Boston. This community is thriving today, but it will only continue to thrive if we all continue to invest in arts in schools for students at all levels. The student survey finds that arts education diminishes as students progress into high school. Among students in grades 4 and 5, 97.1 percent of students receive in-school instruction in at least one arts discipline. For students in grades 9-12 this figure plummets to 58.4 percent — not promising for maintaining a thriving arts community in the city.
Through the arts I, along with my classmates, have learned about creativity, self-confidence, problem-solving, and freedom. Art was something many of us were not greatly exposed to, so it has been different and has always kept us intrigued. It was the only class where students truly had freedom and choice, where there was no “right or wrong” answer.
In second grade my teacher gave my class some markers, paper and an assignment. We needed to create something that was meaningful to us. After weeks of diligent work, my drawing was selected to be in a student art exhibit at City Hall. I knew this was a great honor — not every student’s work was chosen. I remember feeling I had made a statement. I had shown that good things can happen unexpectedly and anyone can excel.
Now, on top of taking visual arts classes in my high school, I work at Artists For Humanity (AFH), a local teen arts organization. When I started at AFH two years ago, I was mostly looking for a job. But what made me a good fit for the job was my dedication, interest, and understanding of art’s significance in today’s society. At a recent AFH fundraising event, I sold my first painting, a landscape titled “Lean Green.” It was a pivotal experience for me as a student and an artist. It was assuring that I was doing something the right way. Someone I had never met before was able to connect and relate to me through the work that I had made. Now a piece of art that I created has a home, where it is appreciated and cared for. Now I am truly a professional.
Not every student will pursue art after graduation, but what the majority of students do recognize is that arts education helps them develop beyond the classroom, no matter what their aspirations are. When asked why they wanted more arts in schools, students answered in the survey, “because it makes me a more interesting person,” or “because it’ll help me with my college choices.”
Art has taught me that there are an exceeding number of approaches not only to creating art, but to decision-making in general. For example, your first reaction to a conflict might not be the correct one, so it is important to take your time, try to solve the problem, and improvement will come. Art is a way of communicating and expressing, allowing to explore all aspects of life -- the good, the bad, the serious, and the funny.
For the youth of Boston, experiences with the arts and creation are extremely important. Building in more diverse opportunities for arts in school is important for maintaining a vibrant arts community in Boston. Art allows one to feel accomplished, and it allows kids to work on something they are personally invested in. All students should be able to create something they can be proud of and call their own. Art is freedom, and if anyone merits freedom it should be our city’s children, our city’s future.
Fred Plowright is a 2014 graduate of Charlestown High School. He is working at Artists For Humanity this summer and will be attending UMass-Boston in the fall, where he plans to study art and science.